Off-beat, Eclectic, Quirky, Slightly Askew Fiction

Allen Kurzweil

In France, on the eve of the Revolution, a young man named Claude Page sets out to become the most ingenious and daring inventor of his time.

John Kennedy Toole

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." -- Jonathan Swift

Ignatius J. Reilly of New Orleans--selfish, domineering, deluded, tragic and larger than life--is a noble crusader against a world of dunces. He is a modern-day Quixote beset by giants of the modern age. In magnificent revolt against the twentieth century, Ignatius propels his monstrous bulk among the flesh posts of the fallen city, documenting life on his Big Chief tablets as he goes, until his maroon-haired mother decrees that Ignatius must work.

Julian Barnes
An eccentiric, playfully skewed, surprisingly comprehensive chronicle of life on Planet Earth. A novel whose threads of coincidence and hidden connection are woven into a narrative tapestry brilliant with wit, intelligence, and emotion.
Michael Levin

"Ruthlessness, pitched battles, and courtroom scenes are the norm in the Gaines family, but when Harry Gaines dies and leaves the family $60 million if they can learn to get along--all hell breaks loose."

Douglas Coupland
"The most disastrous family reunion in the history of fiction. The Drummond family descends upon the state of Florida, cutting a swath through Disney World, Cape Canaveral, the swamps and the highways, gathering to watch the launch into space of their beloved daughter and sister, Sarah. What should be a cause for celebration becomes instead the impetus for a series of mishaps and coincidences that place them in constant peril. In a family where gunplay, black market negotiations and kidnapping are all part of an afternoon in the sun, you can only imagine what happens when things take a turn for the worse."
Benjamin Anastas

William and Clive are mismatched twins. As Clive masters each coming-of-age ritual right on schedule, William...proves himself unequal to every task.

Kate Atkinson

A family saga chronicles a century of life as four generations of Yorkshire women move through two World Wars, coronations, secrets, heartbreak, and happiness, all seen through the eyes of an inimitable narrator named Ruby Lennox.

Kurt Vonnegut

"Breakfast Of Champions is vintage Vonnegut. One of his favorite characters, aging writer Kilgore Trout, finds to his horror that a Midwest car dealer is taking his fiction as truth. The result is murderously funny satire as Vonnegut looks at war, sex, racism, success, politics, and pollution in America and reminds us how to see the truth."

Joseph Heller

"At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war. His efforts are perfectly understandable because as he furiously scrambles, thousands of people he hasn't even met are trying to kill him. His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service.

"Yet if Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions that he is committed to flying, he is trapped by the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, the hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule from which the book takes its title: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he is sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved."

Stella Gibbons

When a well-educated young socialite in 1930s England is left orphaned and unable to support herself at age twenty-two, she moves in with her eccentric relatives on their farm.

Mark Childress

"Comic and tragic, unique and outlandish, Crazy in Alabama is the story of two journeys--Lucille's from Industry, Alabama, to Los Angeles, to star on The Beverly Hillbillies and her 12-year-old nephew Peejoe's, who is about to discover two kinds of Southern justice, and what that means about the stories he's heard and the people he knows."

Jonathan Safran Foer

In the summer after his junior year of college, a writer--also named Jonathan Safran Foer--journeys to the farmlands of eastern Europe. Armed with only a yellowing photograph, he sets out to find the woman who, he has been told, saved his grandfather from the Nazis.

Roy Lewis
"Containing an eyewitness account of the first human courtship ever, a study of the lives of an everyday, ordinary cave family includes portraits of Mom, the ape woman; brother William and his attempted animal domestication; and Dad, the inventor."
Christopher Moore
"Just why do humpback whales sing? That's the question that has marine behavioral biologist Nate Quinn and his crew poking, charting, recording, and photographing very big, wet, gray marine mammals. Until the extraordinary day when a whale lifts its tail into the air to display a cryptic message spelled out in foot-high letters: Bite me. Trouble is, Nate's beginning to wonder if he hasn't spent just a little too much time in the sun. 'Cause no one else on his team saw a thing, not his longtime partner, Clay Demodocus; not their saucy young research assistant; not even the spliff-puffing white-boy Rastaman Kona (ne Preston Applebaum). But later, when a roll of film returns from the lab missing the crucial tail shot, and his research facility is trashed, Nate realizes something very fishy indeed is going on."
Ray Bradbury

"...he takes us to a most wondrous destination: into the heart of an Eternal Family. They have lived for centuries in a house of legend and mystery in upper Illinois -- and they are not like other midwesterners. Rarely encountered in daylight hours, their children are curious and wild; their old ones have survived since before the Sphinx first sank its paws deep in Egyptian sands. And some sleep in beds with lids. Now the house is being readied in anticipation of the gala homecoming that will gather together the farflung branches of this odd and remarkable family.

"In the past-midnight stillness can be detected the soft fluttering of Uncle Einars wings. From her realm of sleep, Cecy, the fairest and most special daughter, can feel the approach of many a welcome being -- shapeshifter, telepath, somnambulist, vampire -- as she flies high in the consciousness of bird and bat. But in the midst of eager anticipation, a sense of doom pervades. For the world is changing. And death, no stranger, will always shadow this most singular family..."

Katherine Dunn

"...the story of the Binewskis, a carny family whose mater- and paterfamilias set out–-with the help of amphetamine, arsenic, and radioisotopes–-to breed their own exhibit of human oddities. There’s Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and a megalomaniac ambition worthy of Genghis Khan . . . Iphy and Elly, the lissome Siamese twins . . . albino hunchback Oly, and the outwardly normal Chick, whose mysterious gifts make him the family’s most precious–-and dangerous–-asset. As the Binewskis take their act across the backwaters of the U.S., inspiring fanatical devotion and murderous revulsion; as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry, Geek Love throws its sulfurous light on our notions of the freakish and the normal, the beautiful and the ugly, the holy and the obscene. Family values will never be the same."

Daniel Woodrell
Novelist Doyle Redmond of California, whose whodunits are getting nowhere, returns to the Ozarks in the hope that a stay in his native land will provide inspiration to achieve fame.
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

In the battle between Good and Evil, an angel and a demon set out to thwart their respective bosses’ plans to reach Armageddon. Also available on audio.

Donald E. Westlake

Disillusioned with His own creation, God has decided to wipe humanity out for good, but the rag-tag collection of human misfits His chief angel has selected to trigger the Apocalypse will endanger this divine plan.

Lewis Nordan

Leroy Dearman is twelve, and he lives on a llama farm in Mississippi. Life is perfect. It's true that his grandfather just died in the attic and that wild dogs kill a baby llama now and then, and it's true that one little sister curses him and the other one wets her pants. But up to the day Uncle Harris moves in, life looks like it's right out of a Walt Disney movie. No wonder the llamas greet each morning with a song. Uncle Harris arrives in a sports car, full of funny stories and new ideas.

Laura Esquivel

A #1 bestseller in Mexico in 1990, this charming, imaginative, and just plain fun novel of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico includes unique recipes at the beginning of each chapter for a variety of traditional dishes.

Joanna Rose
"Sarajean is the child of love children. She lives with Jimmy Henry, a Vietnam vet she accepts as her father. Her mother, whoever she was, disappeared long ago. Sarajean scams her way through childhood, surviving on intuition, seeing her world clearly without judging it. From carelessly discarded clues, she knits together the identity she's always longed for."
John Dufresne
In 1972, Billy Wayne Fontana, last of the famous--and genetically deficient--Fontanas of Monroe, Louisiana, trades his religious calling for an impulsive marriage to Earlene deBastrop, while trying to preserve his spiritual longing.
John Ridley
"Everything's a racket for Jeffty Kittridge, a thirty- seven-year-old ex-wannabe scriptwriter living on the skids in Hollywood--the two-bit cons he pulls for spending money; the way he convinces himself that he's not a drunk between every shot of booze he kicks back; the way he tries to assure Dumas, the local shark, that he's just about to pay off his 15K debt . . . Except he's not good at any of that. He's been in jail twice (and the state's got a bad attitude about seeing someone the third time); that bug he just felt crawling up his neck is most likely the first installment of the DTs; and Dumas recently delivered a fairly emphatic payment-due reminder: a couple of his goons busted two of Jeffty's fingers.

"The fact is, Jeffty's a loser, big as they come, and things aren't about to change up for him anytime soon: 'I would've felt . . . near terminally depressed,' he tells us as his story begins to unfold, 'but I was so used to my life all I felt was content.' Then he stumbles on salvation: a dirt-caked, street-hardened, exquisitely beautiful young homeless woman named Mona--Jeffty prefers to think of her as Angel--who inspires both his love and the idea for the perfect con."

Jonathan Lethem

"A black comedy in New York's criminal underworld. The twitching hero--he suffers from Tourette's syndrome--is one of four misfits who were rescued from an orphanage by a man who gave them jobs in his detective agency. Now the man has been killed and the boys intend to get the killer."

Robert Clark
Heading a police investigation into the brutal murder of a showgirl, Lt. Wesley Horner zeroes in on Herbert White, an eccentric recluse whose spends his days writing gushing fan letters to Hollywood starlets.
Ruth L. Ozeki

"When Jane Takagi-Little finally lands a job--producing a Japanese television show sponsored by BEEF-EX, an organization promoting the export of U.S. meats--she takes her crew on the road in search of all-American wives cooking all-American meat. Over the course of filming, though, Jane makes a few troubling discoveries about both. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, in Japan, Akiko Ueno watches My American Wife! and diligently prepares Coca-Cola Roast and Panfried Prairie Oysters for her husband, John, (the ad-agency rep for the show's sponsor).

"As Akiko fills out his questionnaires, rating each show on Authenticity, Wholesomeness, and Deliciousness of Meat, certain ominous questions about her own life--and the fact that after each meal she has to go to the bathroom and throw up--begin to surface. A tale of love, global media, and the extraordinary events in the lives of two ordinary women, counterpointed by Sei Shonagon's vibrant commentary..."

Carl Hiaasen

"When the precious clue-tongued mango voles at the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills on North Key Largo are stolen by heartless, ruthless thugs, Joe Winder wants to uncover why, and find the voles. Joe is lately a PR man for the Amazing Kingdom theme park, but now that the voles are gone, Winder is dragged along in their wake through a series of weird and lethal events that begin with the sleazy real-estate agent/villain Francis X. Kingsbury and can end only one way...."
An audio book that is also available to download.

Carl Hiaasen

"When the precious clue-tongued mango voles at the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills on North Key Largo are stolen by heartless, ruthless thugs, Joe Winder wants to uncover why, and find the voles. Joe is lately a PR man for the Amazing Kingdom theme park, but now that the voles are gone, Winder is dragged along in their wake through a series of weird and lethal events that begin with the sleazy real-estate agent/villain Francis X. Kingsbury and can end only one way...."
An audio book that is also available to download.

John Welter

"When a disgruntled chef plots to avenge himself on the President by serving lunch meat at a diplomatic dinner, Secret Service agent Doyle Coldiron is swept up in a tide of crazy events involving terrorists, activists, and a tipsy ambassador."

Mavis Cheek

"Celia - housewife, mother, wonderful cook - lives in Bedford Park, London, where the major worries are dailies, private schooling and the misplaced zeal of neighbourhood watch vigilantes. She is celebrating her 40th birthday. The armpit of the English bourgeoisie never felt snugger."
(Known in the U.K. as Parlour Games)

Bill Fitzhugh
"Bob Dillon can't get a break. A down-on-his-luck exterminator, all he wants is his own truck with a big fiberglass bug on top -- and success with his radical new, environmentally friendly pest-killing technique. So Bob decides to advertise. Unfortunately, one of his flyers falls into the wrong hands. Marcel, a shady Frenchman, needs an assassin to handle a million-dollar hit, and he figures that Bob Dillon is his man.

"Through no fault -- or participation -- of his own, this unwitting pest controller from Queens has become a major player in the dangerous world of contract murder. And now Bob's running for his life through the wormiest sections of the Big Apple -- one step ahead of a Bolivian executioner, a homicidal transvestite dwarf, meatheaded CIA agents, cabbies packing serious heat ... and the world's number-one hit man, who might just turn out to be the best friend Bob's got."

Alice Hoffman

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women had been blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town. And Gillian and Sally endured that fate as well; as children, the sisters were outsiders. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, but all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One would do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they shared brought them back--almost as if by magic...

David Sosnowski

A virus is stalking America, but instead of killing the sufferers, it makes them sprout wings. Thus, a new race is born--as is a new form of racism--Angelism.

Daniel Wallace
"Sitting in Last Words group where everyone is recounting their last words on earth, Ray is embarrassed. He didn't declare his love. He didn't say anything symbolic. He didn't reveal his benevolence or goodwill. In fact, he didn't even finish his sentence. His words didn't measure up, and now he can't seem to get them out of his head. Now, in Heaven, he has time to reflect on his short life of fifty years. This is the darkly humorous story of that life, told backward."
Michael Lee West

Vangie Nepper and her husband search for love outside the home and gossip about their neighbors in a sharp, humorous portrayal of life in a friendly but strait-laced Louisiana town in the fifties.

Anne Ursu
"What if you could suddenly remember everything that ever happened to you, every joy and every sorrow that you had ever endured? Would it be a blessing--or a curse? This is the fate of the residents of the town of Clarence, who fall under the spell of a strange and powerful drug that unlocks their memories. The past comes flooding back without the buffer of time, and the townspeople, young and old, find themselves awash in their own reminiscences--of love and death, of war and childhood, of happiness they've experienced, and sins they've committed."
Daniel Pinkwater

In a heaven reserved for the obese, Milton Green, a second-rate editor who died under mysterious circumstances, ponders his life, his romance with an equally obese woman, and the conditions of his demise.

Jim Knipfel
"Meet Roscoe Baragon–crack reporter at a major (well, maybe not that major) metropolitan newspaper. Baragon covers what is affectionately called the Kook Beat–where the loonies call and tell him in meticulously deranged detail what it’s like to live in their bizarre and lonely world. Lately Baragon’s been writing stories about voodoo curses and alien abductions; about fungus-riddled satellites falling to earth and thefts of plumbing fixtures from SRO hotels by strange aquatic-looking creatures. Not exactly New York Times material.

"Maybe it’s the radioactive corpse that puts him over the edge. Or maybe it’s the guy who claims to have been kidnapped by the state of Alaska! But Baragon is now convinced that a vast conspiracy is under way that could take the whole city down–something so deeply strange that it could be straight out of one of the old Japanese monster movies that he watches every night before he goes to sleep. But stuff like this only happens in the movies. Right?"

Tom Bodett

Losing his arm in an Alaskan machinery accident, Ed Flannigan moves to Oregon, where he confronts New Age colonists, organic farmers, and a cranky guardian angel who resides in a peach tree.

Stephen Fry

"A womanizing, drunken, failed poet and recently fired drama critic, cantankerous Ted Wallace seeks refuge from his problems at the country estate of his old friend Logan, the site of mysterious incidents centering around Logan's enigmatic son, David."

Douglas Adams

Minutes before the Earth is scheduled for demolition, Arthur Dent is rescued by his friend Ford Prefect and finds himself traveling the galaxy, armed with only a towel and the ultimate guidebook. Also available on audio.

Anita Brookner

"...tells the story of Edith Hope, who writes romance novels under a pseudonym. When her life begins to resemble the plots of her own novels, however, Edith flees to Switzerland, where the quiet luxury of the Hotel du Lac promises to resore her to her senses. But instead of peace and rest, Edith finds herself sequestered at the hotel with an assortment of love's casualties and exiles. She also attracts the attention of a worldly man determined to release her unused capacity for mischief and pleasure."

Colson Whitehead

"It is a time of calamity in a major metropolitan city's Department of Elevator Inspectors, and Lila Mae Watson, the first black female elevator inspector in the history of the department, is at the center of it. There are two warring factions within the department: the Empiricists, who work by the book and who dutifully check for striations on the winch cable and such; and the Intuitionists, who are simply able to enter the elevator cab in question, meditate, and intuit any defects.

"Lila Mae is an Intuitionist and, it just so happens, has the highest accuracy rate in the entire department. But when an elevator in a new city building goes into total freefall on Lila Mae's watch, chaos ensues. Sabotage is the obvious explanation: It's an election year in the Elevator Guild, and the good-old-boy Empiricists would love nothing more than to assign the blame to an Intuitionist, and a colored one at that. But Lila Mae is never wrong.

"The sudden appearance of excerpts from the lost notebooks of Intuitionism's founder, James Fulton, has also caused quite a stir. The notebooks describe Fulton's work on the 'black box,' a perfect elevator that could reinvent the city as radically as the first passenger elevator did when patented by Elisha Otis in the nineteenth century. When Lila Mae goes underground to investigate the crash, she becomes involved in the search for the portions of the notebooks that are still missing and uncovers a secret that will change her life forever."

Marele Day

"Three eccentric, secluded nuns live on a remote island, forgotten by time and the Church -- until a priest unwittingly happens upon them. He is as surprised to see the nuns as they are to see a flesh-and-blood man, and what follows is the strange, moving, and often hilarious story of their struggle -- a struggle of wills, and of faith."

Mark Sundeen
"Mark Sundeen needed to stage a comeback. His first book was little read, rarely reviewed, and his book tour was cancelled. So when a careless big city publisher calls with an offer for a book about bullfighting, Mark assumes this is his best and last chance to follow the trajectory of his literary heroes.

"To be sure, Sundeen has never been to a bullfight. He doesn't speak Spanish. He's not even a particularly good reporter. Come to think of it, he's probably one of the least qualified people to write a book about bullfighting, even in the best of circumstances. But that doesn't stop Mark Sundeen.

"After squandering most of the book advance on back rent and debts, Sundeen can't afford a trip to Spain, so he settles for nearby Mexico. But the bullfighting he finds south of the border is tawdry and comical, and people seem much more interested in the concessions and sideshows. There's little of the passion and artistry and bravery that he'd hoped to employ in exhibiting his literary genius to the masses.

"To compensate for his own shortcomings as an author, Sundeen invents an alter ego, Travis LaFrance, a swashbuckling adventure writer, in the tradition of his idol, Ernest Hemingway. But as his research falters, his money runs out, and the deadline approaches, Sundeen's high-minded fantasies are skewered by his second-rate reality. Eventually, Travis LaFrance steps in to take control, and our narrator goes blundering through the landscape of his own dreams and delusions, propelled solely by a preposterous, quixotic, and ultimately heartbreaking insistence that his own life story, no matter how crummy, is worth being told in the pages of Great Literature."

Brendan O'Carroll

"Chronicles with raw humor and great affection the comic misadventures of a large and lively North Dublin family in the 1960s."
Later made into the film, Agnes Brown--starring Angelica Huston.

Martin Clark

"Hung over, beaten by the unforgiving sun, bitter at his estranged wife, and dreading the day’s docket of petty criminal cases, Judge Evers Wheeling is in need of something on the morning he's accosted by Ruth Esther English. Ruth Esther's strange story certainly is something, and Judge Wheeling finds himself in uncharted territory. Reluctantly agreeing to help Ruth Esther retrieve some stolen money, he recruits his pot-addled brother and a band of merry hangers-on for the big adventure."

Steven Sherrill
The half-man, half-bull supposedly slain by Theseus in the labyrinth is actually working as a cook at Grub's Rib in a small town in North Carolina.
Paul Auster

"Paul Auster’s great trilogy of 1985–1986 broke ground in its mix of serious fictional techniques and detective and mystery genres. Since that time it has become one of the most successful series of novels of the last decades..."

In the first of the trilogy, City of Glass, a detective novelist makes a phone call and finds himself enmeshed in suddenly puzzling reality.

T. Coraghessan Boyle

"Will Lightbody is a man with a stomach ailment whose only sin is loving his wife, Eleanor, too much. Eleanor is a health nut of the first stripe, and when in 1907 she journeys to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg's infamous Battle Creek Spa to live out the vegetarian ethos, poor Will goes, too. So begins T. Coraghessan Boyle's wickedly comic look at turn-of-the-century fanatics in search of the magic pill to prolong their lives--or the profit to be had from manufacturing it."

Graham Joyce

It began as an experiment in college -- a seemingly harmless investigation into "lucid dreaming:-- the ability to control one's dreams.
Sam and his friends are like any gang of normal young boys…until the day Sam wakes to find the Tooth Fairy sitting on the edge of his bed.

Louis de Bernieres

"This rambunctious first novel by the author of the bestselling Corelli's Mandolin is set in an impoverished, violent, yet ravishingly beautiful country somewhere in South America. When the haughty Dona Constanza decides to divert a river to fill her swimming pool, the consequences are at once tragic, heroic, and outrageously funny."

M. A. Harper

A middle-aged woman is forced to return to a home state she'd rather forget…and come to terms with a past filled with the shadows of her mother--a once vibrant femme fatale now suffering from Alzheimer's.

Connie Willis

Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest. He's been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop's bird stump. It's part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier.

D.B.C. Pierre
"In the town jail of Martirio, Texas--under the terrifying care of the dynastic Gurie family, and wearing only his New Jack trainers and underpants--15-year-old Vernon Little is in trouble. His friend, the mysterious Jesus, has just blown away 16 of his classmates before turning the gun on himself."
Clyde Edgerton

Mattie Rigsbee is seventy-eight. She lives by herself in Listre, North Carolina (near Bethel). She claims she's "slowing down," but she still cuts her own grass and runs the Lottie Moon missions fund drive at Listre Baptist Church. This is the scene into which Edgerton drops Wesley Benfield -- adolescent, illegitimate, and delinquent, with a mouth full of foul language and bad teeth and a craving for good food.

Jean Shepherd

The creator of A Christmas Story shares more of growing up in the Midwest--this time during his teenaged years:
"...a universal (and achingly funny) orchestration of Midwestern puberty rites, from the gut-wrenching playground antics of one Delbert Bumpus, to the supernal glow surrounding unapproachable high school beauty Daphne Bigelow, to the memorable disaster that was Shepherd's (and everyone else's) junior prom."
Stories include:
The grandstand passion play of Delbert and the Bumpus hounds --County fair! -- Scut Farkas and the murderous Mariah -- Ollie Hopnoodle's haven of bliss -- The star-crossed romance of Josephine Cosnowski --Daphne Bigelow and the spine-chilling saga of the snail-encrusted tinfoil noose - - The return of the smiling Wimpy doll -- Wanda Hickey's night of golden memories.

Luke Whisnant

Readers see themselves and their society through the eyes of three visiting Chinese graduate students who are perplexed by the difference between Tide, Cheer, and Biz; Monday Night Football; Dallas; and other American cultural phenomena as viewed through the tube in 1980s Cleveland.

Peter Hedges
"Gilbert Grape is devoted to taking care of his family, which includes an obese mother and a mentally impaired brother. He feels the hopelessness of his life in a rural community when a young woman breezes into town and changes everything."